Caregivers often find that looking after an ailing loved one has a negative impact on their physical and mental health.
Regular exercise is touted as one of the simplest ways for caregivers to stay healthy and fight depression, but many lack the time, energy and resources to go to the gym on a regular basis. They have to take their workouts wherever they can get them, usually in the form of a brief walk, or running around fetching things for an elderly loved one.
Any kind of physical activity is beneficial. But sporadic strolls and frenzied housework do not do much to help caregivers stay strong and mobile—two especially important physical traits for those who have to assist a loved one who has trouble walking or moving on their own.
Muscle-building exercises are a must for those wishing to prevent injury and stave off the effects of aging, according to Cathy Moxley, M.A., Fitness Director at Asbury Methodist Village, a continuing care retirement community in Gaithersburg, Maryland. "Stronger muscles mean being able to carry our own groceries, get out of a chair with ease, and walk farther and faster. Stronger muscles help ward off joint problems, decrease the risk of osteoporosis, and improve posture and back pain."
Elders too can benefit from increased muscle mass. One recent study found a regular strength-training program helped nursing home residents in their 80s and 90s go from using a walker to a cane in just ten weeks.
But how can caregivers and their loved ones find the time (and energy) to take advantage of the benefits of strength training?
Simple At-Home Strength Exercises
Moxley and Sims McMahon, fitness coach with SilverSneakers, a nationwide health program tailored to aging adults offer some simple, at-home strengthening exercises that can be performed by individuals of all ages and abilities with minimal equipment—just a stable chair, an exercise band and a wall.
- Leg Press: Sit upright in a chair. Lift up one leg and wrap the resistance band around your shoe, taking firm hold of each end. Flex your foot and press it out until your knee is almost straight (avoid locking your knee, as doing so can cause injury). Slowly bring your leg back to the bent position, making sure to keep resistance on the band. Repeat the same movement with your other leg.
- Seated Chest Press: Sit upright in a chair. Wrap the band behind your back and grasp each end right underneath your arm pits. Press out with both arms until your elbows are almost straight. Slowly bring your arms back until your hands are back underneath your armpits.
- Biceps Curl: Sit upright in a chair and plant your feet on the floor front of you with your thighs running parallel to the floor. Place the band underneath both feet and grip each end in your hands. Keep your elbows at your side as you curl your palms up towards your shoulders. Slowly bring your hands back down—keeping your elbows at your sides—until your hands touch the tops of your thighs. For this exercise, the band may be substituted for hand weights or even canned goods.
- Seated Row: Sit upright on the edge of a chair. Keeping your knees bent and your heels planted on the floor, extend your legs out a little bit in front of you. Wrap the exercise band around your feet, crisscross the band and hold one end in each hand. Pull your arms back in a bent-arm rowing position, making sure to squeeze your shoulder blades towards each other. Slowly release your arms back to their starting position out in front of you.
- Abdominal Crunch: Sit upright on the edge of a chair. Cross your arms over your chest and slowly lean back until your shoulder blades just touch the back of the chair. Hold this position for a few seconds (remembering to breathe consistently as you do so) and then slowly rise up to your starting seated position.
- Calf raises: Stand on the edge of a raised platform (the bottom step of a staircase works well) with the balls of your feet fully on the step and your heels dangling off the edge of the step, parallel to the floor. Maintain good upper body posture as raise your heels and stand on tiptoes. You may need to use a chair or wall for stability. Slowly lower your heels until they reach their initial starting position.
- Wall Push-Ups: Face a stable, empty wall and stand up straight, several feet away from where the wall and floor meet. Lean forward and place your palms flat against the surface of the wall in front of you with your arms as straight as possible without locking your elbows. Keeping the muscles in your torso engaged, bend your elbows and lean forward until your nose touches the wall. Slowly push back to your initial position, again keeping your core tight the entire way.
- Wall Squats: Place your back straight up against the wall and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground and your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle. You may need to place a chair out in front of you to provide stability as you squat. Don't allow your knees to drift past your feet. Hold this position for about 30 seconds, stand up and repeat.
Important Things to Keep in Mind
Before setting foot on a machine or purchasing a set of dumbbells, McMahon stresses the importance of checking in with a doctor first. A knowledgeable physician should be able to guide you towards the right exercise program.
McMahon suggests beginners gradually add power exercises into their workouts two to three days per week. One or two sets of each exercise is a good place to start. Within each set, you can work your way up from 5-8 repetitions to 10-15, once you begin to feel more confident with the movement and weight.
To avoid unintentionally injuring yourself when performing power exercises, Moxley advises remaining cognizant of posture, technique and breathing pattern. Perform each movement slowly and smoothly, with full range of motion (as long as it doesn't cause any discomfort). Remember to keep your breathing steady and avoid holding your breath at any point during an exercise.
It may seem like there's no room in your life for another task,but finding the time to exercise is essential for the health of both you and your loved one. As caregiver and AgingCare blogger, Marlis Powers says, "Your life may depend on it."